- Why was the Donor Conceived Alliance of Canada (DCAC) created?
The Donor Conceived Alliance of Canada (DCAC) was created in May of 2018 after Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal, Liberal) made his plans to propose Bill C-404 public. Mr. Housefather’s Bill, if passed, would amend the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2004) to decriminalize compensation for gamete donors and surrogates. At the press conference Housefather held to announce this Bill, no donor-conceived people were present. From it’s crafting, to it being brought forward to Canadians publicly, Donor-conceived Canadians soon realized that, as with other policy discussions regarding third-party reproduction, we had been completely absent from the discourse. This was not because we were not interested in the evolution of policies governing third-party reproduction or the science informing the industry, but because there is a consistent effort to bar us from being recognized as meaningful stakeholders.
A group of donor-conceived Canadians formed the DCAC to ensure that donor-conceived Canadians are meaningfully represented in federal and provincial policy discussions regarding third-party reproduction and are viewed as stakeholders in regulatory consultations with governmental departments, such as Health Canada.
• Are you formally partnered with any other organizations?
No. The Donor Conceived Alliance of Canada (DCAC) is not formally partnered with any other organizations and is politically independent.
• Are you a support group?
No. The Donor Conceived Alliance of Canada (DCAC) is not a support group. We link to a variety of resources, including support groups, on our website. The DCAC is an advocacy group that takes issue with the ways third-party reproduction has been discussed, governed, and regulated in Canada. The DCAC advocates that the rights of donor-conceived people be at the forefront of policy discussions regarding gamete donation. The DCAC advocates for inclusive laws and regulations and opposes those that stigmatize diverse families, such as same-sex couples, single parents, and blended families.
• Are you against all forms of reproductive technology?
No. The Donor Conceived Alliance of Canada (DCAC) does not oppose all forms of reproductive technology. Reproductive technology is a term that encompasses a vast number of medications, procedures, treatments, and anticipated technologies. The fields of science, medicine, law, business, and bioethics that are committed to theorizing, researching, administering, and regulating reproductive technologies are complex and often contradictory. The DCAC acknowledges that many forms of reproductive technology have yet to have their long-term effects comprehensively studied.
The DCAC, however, is primarily concerned with third-party reproduction and opposes policies and regulations that are wholly inadequate and do not take donor-conceived people’s rights and interests into account.
- Are you the only donor-conceived people who take issue with the fertility industry and the laws and regulations governing it?
It is very difficult to study the perspectives of donor-conceived people because of selection bias in small-N case studies and the difficulties associated with conducting cross-sectional longitudinal studies. The first study to explore the perspectives of donor-conceived people was Baran and Pannor’s 1989 study Lethal Secrets. Baran and Pannor found two consistent themes: secrecy is harmful and donor anonymity has the potential to create a barrier to donor-conceived people knowing and understanding their identities. Other scholarly works that suggest that there should be increased transparency and/or that donor-conceived people are curious about their biological parents are:
– Turner and Coyle (2000) conducted an internet-based study with 16 participants that reported that those who found out about their conception in their adulthood felt: distrust of their family, lack of genetic continuity, and frustration in the process of searching for their biological fathers.
– Hewitt’s (2002) study which included 47 participants reported that the majority of participants favoured early disclosure. As well, the majority of participants wanted information about their biological parent. One-third desired more than non-identifying information.
– Kirkman’s (2004) study which included 87 diverse participants (e.g. donor-conceived people, intended parents, etc) reported that the majority of donor-conceived participants claimed to: have a right to their own genetic histories and would not consider donating or selling their own gametes if they could not form relationships with their genetic children.
– Scheib’s (2005) study focused on 29 individuals conceived with open-identity sperm donors. The majority knew they were donor-conceived and still were curious about their biological parent and wanted to meet him.
– Mahlstedt et al. (2010) conducted a study of 85 individuals conceived using donor sperm. The majority believes that sperm donation should only be practiced if all donors were open-ID.
– Scheib et al. (2017) studied the first 10 years of information releases to adults conceived using open-identity donors at the Sperm Bank of California. Their report showed that 92.9% of requests came from 18- to 21-year-olds, which suggests that adults are likely to request the information as soon as they are eligible to receive it. In the study, the adults whose biological parents changed their mind about contact were “all very disappointed and upset.”
In addition, there are also informal surveys, such as the We Are Donor Conceived 2018 Survey, that suggests that the majority of donor-conceived people do not support donor anonymity and that the fertility industry does not understand nor respect our rights and needs.
Annette Baran and Reuben Pannor, Lethal Secrets: The Psychology of Donor Insemination: Problems and Solutions, (New York: Warner Books, 1989).
A.J. Turner and A. Coyle, “What Does it Mean to be a Donor Offspring? The Identity Experiences of Adults Conceived by Donor Insemination and the Implications for Counseling and Therapy,” Human Reproduction 15, no. 9 (2000).
Geraldine Hewitt, “Missing Links: Identity Issues of Donor Conceived People,” Journal of Fertility Counselling 9, no. 3 (2002).
Maggie Kirkman, “Genetic Connection and Relationships in Narratives of Donor-Assisted Conception,” Australian Centre for Emerging Technologies and Society 2, no. 1 (2004).
J.E. Scheib, M. Riordan, and S. Rubin, “Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors: reports from 12-17 year olds,” Human Reproduction 20, no. 1 (2005).
Patricia P. Mahlstedt, Kathleen LaBounty, and William Thomas Kennedy, “The Views of Adult Offspring of Sperm Donation: Essential Feedback for the Development of Ethical Guidelines within the Practice of Assisted Reproductive Technology in the United States,” Fertility and Sterility 93, no. 7 (2010).
J.E. Scheib, A. Ruby, and J. Benward. “Who Requests their Sperm Donor’s Identity? The First Ten Years of Information Releases to Adults with Open-Identity Donors.” Fertility and Sterility 107, no. 2 (2017).
• Anonymity is an absolute right that is promised to gamete donors. If you abolish anonymity nobody will ever donate.
False. Under the law, anonymity is not an absolute right. It is a qualified right. This means that there are several instances wherein one’s anonymity is interfered with so long as the interference is not arbitrary and is lawful. Anonymity in gamete donation should not be permitted and promised at all. This is not only because anonymity is theoretically not an absolute right, but because in practice, it is simply impossible to guarantee.
To date, over 12 million people have had their DNA analyzed via a commercial DNA test (such as 23andMe or AncestryDNA). Many fertility experts and lawyers agree that because of the increasing likelihood of people discovering their biological family, anonymity is a myth. For example, Susan Crockin, a family lawyer and adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School, tells her clients that, “anonymity is a myth” and, “the chances of a donor-conceived person being able to find their [biological parent]… are almost guaranteed today.”
Furthermore, in the U.K., where gamete donor anonymity has been banned since 2004, numbers released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) challenge the claims that banning anonymity would result in a significant decrease in gamete donation. In 2006, shortly after the U.K. banned anonymity, the HFEA’s numbers showed that between April-October 2004 133 sperm donors were registered in the U.K. Post-anonymity ban, between April-October of 2005, 143 sperm donors were registered. Other jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands, which also removed anonymity in 2004, had similar trends to the U.K. Parts of Australia banned anonymity in 2005 and saw a 42% increase in donor numbers the same year anonymity was banned. In Sweden, which removed anonymity in 1984, the number of sperm donors declined (as did the demand) and then the decline was reversed.
Evidence suggests that there is:
1) A global decline in gamete donors and this cannot be blamed on banning anonymity as it is not banned worldwide.
2) The decline in gamete donation after banning anonymity can be either encouraged or reversed by clinic recruitment efforts. Therefore, the notion that there will be an absolute decrease in gamete donors for a long period after banning anonymity is not legitimate.
Eric Blyth and Lucy Frith, “The U.K.’s Gamete Donor ‘Crisis’ – A Critical Analysis,” Critical Social Policy 28, no. 1 (2008).
Damian H. Adams, Shahid Ullah, and Sheryl de Lacey. “Does the Removal of Anonymity Reduce Sperm Donors in Australia?” Journal of Law and Medicine 28, no. 3 (2016).
• Besides the U.K., the Netherlands, and parts of Australia, are there any other jurisdictions that are regulating this industry in a way that takes donor-conceived people’s rights and interests into account?
In addition to the above jurisdictions, Austria (1992), Switzerland (1998), Norway (2003), Holland (2004), New Zealand (2004), Finland (2006), Sweden (2006), Washington State, United States (2011), Croatia (2012), Germany (2015), and Argentina (2014) have all recognized the importance of comprehensive reform and have slowly implemented policies that have taken the rights of donor-conceived people into account. Most of these policies concern anonymity. You can read more about them here.
- What kinds of language should I use when talking about donor conception and those born through this technology?
This list does not claim to reflect the opinions of all donor-conceived people everywhere. Donor-conceived people should be encouraged to use the language that is comfortable for them. The DCAC believes, however, that with respect to policy discussions language is important and the following should be kept in mind:
– Avoid calling all donor-conceived people “babies” or “children” as the people advocating for better laws and regulations are often legal adults. Calling donor-conceived people “babies” or “children” is disempowering and perpetuates the notion that we are children who never grow up to become autonomous beings with our own thoughts and feelings about the fertility industry and the way it is governed. Instead, simply say donor-conceived (with or without the dash) people or adults. You may see the letters “DCP” on our website and others like it. It stands for “donor-conceived person/people”.
– Avoid saying that someone’s biological parent is “just” a donor and that donor-conceived individuals should not be curious about who their biological parents are. Some people are not curious about their genetic background, but many are. Every donor-conceived person places a different level of significance on the relationship they have or do not have with their biological parent(s). It is no one else’s place to dictate where the emphasis should be or how it should be articulated.
– Avoid labelling someone’s biological parent as their donor. “Donor” is a reference to the relationship between intended parents and gamete donors. It does not describe the relationship between gamete donors and their genetic children. Rather than referring to someone’s biological parent as “their sperm donor”, for example, simply refer to the person as the biological or genetic parent.
– Avoid saying that the biological or genetic parent is the “real” parent. Donor-conceived people are not a monolith. We come from diverse households. Some of us have heterosexual parents, some have single mothers, some have same-sex parents. Do not suggest that our legal parent(s) did not or do not play a significant role in our lives or that our search for our genetic relatives is a reflection of how we feel about our parents.
– Avoid the term “dibling” when referring to a donor-conceived person’s half-siblings. “Dibling” is short for “donor sibling”. Although it sounds cute, it often downplays the reality that donor-conceived people often have dozens or even hundreds of half-siblings and that this can be a complex journey for us – emotionally and legally — especially because most of us were never meant to find one another. Be scientifically accurate and simply say half-siblings.